After 18 years, the Worthington Division of Fire & EMS will have a new leader in 2018.
In early December, fire Chief Scott Highley announced his retirement after more than 24 years with the division. Highley was hired in 1993 and was promoted to chief in 1999.
After 34 years in fire service and nearly two decades in the same position, the time was right to move on, Highley said.
"It's time to kind of look back and say, 'Maybe it's time to change things up a little,' " he said.
Highley said he looked around central Ohio and realized few fire chiefs had been with the same department as long as he had.
"It used to be kind of common but it's getting less and less common for a chief to be around for more than 10 years," he said.
In that lengthy career with Worthington, Highley said, he hopes he "made things better for the community" along the way. He said he is not "the type of person to look at any one event" but he thinks he made a positive impact overall.
"I think I always tried to make sure everybody's focus was on the people we're serving," he said. "It's my job to take care of the people in the building, but we have to realize we serve a diverse community and we interact with people when it's not exactly a good day for them."
Highley's retirement officially begins Jan. 1.
Taking over for him will be Assistant Chief John Bailot, who joined the division in 2016.
Bailot, 56, said he moved to Worthington from St. Louis after seeing the assistant chief's job posted and with "the hope and desire that ultimately I would become the chief."
Highley said the division is "in good hands" with Bailot, who has an associate's degree in fire-science technology, a bachelor's in fire-service management and a master's in public administration, along with the executive-fire-officer designation from the U.S. Fire Administration.
Bailot said his main goal is to "continue the work" Highley has done.
"My plan is to continue some of that and continue reaching forward," he said. "Our goal is to always provide the best service with the resources we've been given and to be on that cutting edge in the central Ohio area. Worthington has been known for very long time as a very high level department, and we want to continue that and reach even higher."
The city is advertising Bailot's assistant chief position to find a replacement.
Bailot, whose salary was $103,921 in 2017, will get a raise with his new position, which has a dual title: deputy director of safety and fire chief, according to city officials. His salary for 2018 will be $121,866. Highley's salary was $118,894 in 2017. Both men receive Worthington's benefits package valued at $11,165 or $25,045, depending on the selection of single or family coverage for insurance, according to the city.
At 55, Highley said, he's not ready to completely retire just yet. But he said he expects to take a bit of a break and he's "not looking to just change uniforms," though there "might be a scenario or two" that could bring him back to work.
In the meantime, Highley said, he has a lot of projects he's been saying he'll "get around to" that he can now wrap up. And for the most part, he said, people still should see him in Worthington.
"I'll be around; it's hard not to be," he said with a laugh. "I just may be harder to find."